George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba was fortunate in many ways, although, as a child, he was thought to be strange and broody.
His brother taught him to draw animals with soot, shoe polish and clay on the bare walls of their family home. When it became evident that Pemba had real artistic talent, his father encouraged him by buying him paints, brushes and paper. He was different from his peers. He did not speak up in public and stammered when asked a question.
He received a Grey Scholarship, which allowed him secondary school education and after becoming a teacher at the Lovedale training college in the Eastern Cape, he won 2 bursaries to further his art studies.
Before becoming a full time South African artist, George Pemba had to work as a rent collector. Artists John Mohl and Gerard Sekoto encouraged him to paint for a living and from 1952, working from his garage, he did so, supplementing his income if necessary by selling groceries in a local store.
Unlike other black artists who left South Africa to live and work in exile, Pemba remained in the country as a professional painter, despite all the social and political obstacles.
Pemba depicted the lives and customs of those living in the townships of the Eastern Cape during apartheid. He did not try to create resistance art that was obviously politically inspired. Pemba just wanted to document every day life and that resulted in great art. To him, art had the power to heal.
Those who came into contact with his art knew beyond doubt that George Pemba had an extraordinary talent, a talent that was sadly only widely recognised just before his death in 2001. But in 1931 an unidentified portrait subject recognised Pemba's immense talent, telling him 'but I never thought you could draw souls!'